Saturday, February 16, 2002

Kent State poised to clinch MAC title

Miami tries to hand Golden Flashes 1st home defeat

By Ian Duthie
Enquirer contributor

        OXFORD — Kent State's new head coach, Stan Heath, knew when he accepted his job in April that he was stepping into an ""ideal'' situation after Gary Waters left for Rutgers.

        Ideal in the fact that Heath inherited a team coming off a school-record 24 victories, including one against Indiana for its first ever in the NCAA Tournament before losing to Cincinnati. Heath's senior-laden team, which returned three starters, is on the brink of clinching the Mid-American Conference's regular-season title as the Golden Flashes (19-5, 12-1) host Miami (11-13, 8-5) tonight.

        “At first I heard it took a while for his kids to understand what Stan was trying to do for them,” said Miami coach Charlie Coles, who, as a University of Detroit assistant, recruited Heath, who ultimately landed at Eastern Michigan. “There is no question that he has made them a much better team, especially defensively. I think they are one of the all-time best MAC teams.”

        Success is nothing new to Heath. In five years as an assistant at Michigan State, Heath helped recruit and coach high school all-Americans Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Charlie Bell and Jason Richardson. That group helped the Spartans makethree straight trips to the Final Four, winning the national championship in 2000.

        Making Heath's job easier is a trio of senior guards who, with a victory today, will secure their fourth consecutive 20-win season. The Golden Flashes are attempting to make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons.

        At the point is Trevor Huffman, who almost single-handedly led his team into the NCAA Tournament last season with a career-high 27 points against Miami in the MAC tourney championship game.

        Next is shooting guard Andrew Mitchell, who leads the team in scoring at 15.8 points a game. Filling out the trio is defensive stopper Demetric Shaw, who earned the MAC Defensive Player of the Year award last season. He averaged nearly seven rebounds though standing only 6 feet 3.

        “When you have seniors like them, you know their experience and toughness will keep them in every game,” Coles said.

        Newcomer Antonio Gates (15.5 ppg) on the inside increases Miami's challenge of attempting to be the first team to win at Kent this season.

        The game will be Miami's fifth in 11 days. A victory would give the RedHawks a 4-1 mark during that stretch.


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